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Filtering by Category: Chorus of Westerly

Warmups for Choirs

Let's make this go viral, but not Ebola viral My latest contribution to cyberspace: A video of warmups for the singers of The Chorus Of Westerly. Director Andrew Howell asked me to record some warmups that singers could do every day at home (I'm the vocal coach for the Chorus). I suggested that a picture is worth a thousand arpeggios.

We tried to include a cross-section of exercises to suit the needs of the majority of our singers, who range in age from 8 to 80. So we stretched, we yawned, we made whale sounds, we wailed sirens, and we did some breathing exercises. You can do 'em too! Go ahead! Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 11.00.07 AM

At the Chorus, I've been able to hear about 20 or 30 of the individual singers over the past couple of years. Some have come for voice lessons or for voice class, or I've just been sitting near them in rehearsal. But most of the voices are known to me only as part of a group. I still have to figure out how to help them sing better. One-on-one vocal instruction can lead to rapid results because you can zone in on individual quirks and abilities. How do you improve the vocal technique of multiple singers at the same time? A choir director can demonstrate and then ask for an "oo" vowel, but every singer will take that direction a little differently. One chorister will sing "oo" with little change in the vocal tract, while the one right next door might sing an "oo" that sounds like an "oh," with some  "uh," and "eeew" in there too. Each "oo" will be different because the person, like the voice, is unique, and the producer is too close to the sound to really hear what it sounds like. Each voice carries a lifetime of singing shoulds and shouldn'ts, unbroken bad habits, and (often) some overdone good habits. How do you get one person to brighten their "uh" to an "eeh" to wind up on "ooh" while the person right next to them needs to darken their nasal "eeew" with more "uh"? And then do that with, say, an additional 138 singers?

Yawn if you love the Chorus of Westerly

One of my solutions is asking everyone to make some extreme sounds, to increase flexibility and show a singer what's vocally possible in their own throat. Everyone, make "ee" so bright it needs sunglasses. Spread your lips, grin like a Cheshire Cat, and say "ee." Okay, that's bright! Feel the position of your tongue when you make that "ee." Now, make a dark, woofy "ugh" in the very back of the throat, like a monster on Halloween. Notice the difference. I mug, I grimace, I make very weird sounds and cheer every singer who's brave enough to do it with me. Most find it very freeing and fun. You're watching this on your computer? TRY IT! 

Every singer should safely explore the limits of their instrument, individually or in a group. We get used to singing vowels in certain ways, we get used to hearing ourselves sing the same way, and we begin to lose flexibility. Sirens and wails and extreme sounds can help any singer find new colors and new vocal possibilities. Singers might also rethink where their voice is, in relation to those extremes. And they might be a little more willing to make small changes or adjustments. 

Want me to come do whale sounds with your choir? Just ask! 

 

 

Loving the viola

Why do so many people take an instant dislike to the viola? Because it saves time. I kid, I kid! I'm part of a lovely chamber music concert being held Sunday, April 6 at 4pm at Christ Church Episcopal, 7 Elm Street, in Westerly RI. We are the Ariosti Ensemble, named for Attilio Ariosti, a well-regarded Italian composer whose sonatas for viola d'amore (translation: viol of love) are part of the standard Baroque chamber repertoire. Okay, my eight blog readers: What is a viola d'amore, and why should you care? Dr. Joe Ceo with his viola d'amore

If violins are the sopranos of the orchestra, then the violas are altos -- and the viola d'amores are the Red Hat Ladies of the section, proud of their maturity and celebrating their unique experience. Violins play the highest pitches, while violas have a deeper, mellower sound. In addition to its six strings, the viola d'amore has extra "sympathetic" strings that vibrate as the top strings are played by the bow. These extra vibrations give the viola d'amore a distinctively warm, sweet sound.  The "d'amore" indicates the era in which the instrument was developed -- there is also an oboe d'amore. Both instruments date back to the 17th century, and are still used in Baroque ensembles. Violas, and viola d'amores, are notoriously difficult to keep in tune. Hence, the plethora of viola jokes.

Did you hear about the violist who played in tune? Neither did I.

Joe and Eden, rehearsing for the Ariosti Ensemble Concert

Dr. Joe Ceo knows me from our work together at Salve Regina University (where he directed the orchestra for 17 years and I'm a voice teacher), and at the Chorus Of Westerly (where he plays plain old viola and I sing plain old Soprano 1). When Joe invited me to sing with the Ariosti Ensemble, we originally chose arias by Ariosti and by J.S. Bach. We've ditched the Ariosti and have kept the Bach. (It's "Stein, der uber alle Schatze" BWV 152, composed in 1714.) We've also added a piece by Leonardo Vinci. No, it's not the "da" guy who had a special code. This Leonardo came along about 250 years later, and I don't think he painted a thing. He wrote about 50 operas in his short life. He died at 43, poisoned by his girlfriend's husband; one of those dramatic endings that is also apparently true. I'm thrilled to perform Vinci's coloratura-centric "Mesta O Dio fra queste selve," written in 1728.

What's the difference between a viola and a trampoline? You take your shoes off to jump on the trampoline.

I invite you to ignore the viola haters, choose love, and specifically choose to attend this wonderful concert featuring the much-maligned viola d'amore. This is the final event of the Arts Commission's season. The concert will last about an hour and 15 minutes total. In addition to my arias, the Ariosti Ensemble will perform J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, and a world premiere chamber piece by Derek Ferris. Admission is always free, and  always includes a fabulous reception right after the concert. Since we have Derek's world premiere to celebrate, there will be champagne. So, I hope to see you at Christ Church on Sunday at 4 -- to listen, be merry, and drink. In that order!

We're ready!

 

 

 

 

Sunday in the studio with Eden and Eliane

Eliane Aberadam is a professor of composition at the University Of Rhode Island, and my fellow soprano at the Chorus of Westerly. On Sunday March 2 at 7pm, In URI's Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, I'm going to sing two "Oceanic Poems" she set to music: Ocean Of Forms and Winter Dusk, with Alexey Shabalin on violin and Hyunjong Choi on harp(Yes, you can come! The pieces are part of a Composers' Collage Concert. It's FREE!!! But . . donations are accepted.) I've been running the pieces for months now, but just on my own. I'll rehearse with Alexey and Hyunjong next week. They have played the pieces before with other sopranos but it's new to me, so Eliane recently came over to my house and we worked on the details. It's not often that a composer comes and sits at my piano to coach me, so The Best Photographer In The World commemorated the occasion (there was a break in the ice dancing competition).

This is Eliane, faking the harp and violin parts that will accompany the vocal.EdenRehearse-19 This is me trying to count in multiple meters while singing some high notes.EdenRehearse-15"

The harpist is very good, much better at harp than I am at piano," Eliane said apologetically, and she gave me a harp anatomy lesson right then and there. I didn't know, and it is really cool. Harpists, you're awesome. EdenRehearse-12 This is me being granted permission to change a word stress from sob-bed to soooooooobbed. EdenRehearse-6 Since Eliane gave me a harp history lesson, I gave her the history of my Story & Clark piano and music stand. Both were gifts from Margaret Vogel, a family friend and neighbor. She would "hire" my sister and me to serve as very short waiters at her frequent parties. We would take coats from guests and lay them on the bed, we would pass hors d'oeuvres and clear plates. At some point Margaret would usually ask me to sit down and play her piano. There was a cigarette stain on one of the G keys, made by her chain-smoker husband Jack, whose favorite song was "Born To Lose." The wooden stand was in her formal living room and it always held the family Bible. When Jack died, I sang "Ave Maria" at his funeral. Margaret downsized from their big home to a smaller residence, and she called my mother to say that she wanted me to have the piano and the wooden stand in gratitude. She knew I didn't have a piano in my apartment and she thought I'd love to have hers, and oh she was right. It was the most unexpected funeral "compensation" I've ever received, and I am still grateful for it every day. EdenRehearse-1As Eliane and I were finishing up, two movers came to take away the other piano in my home -- my Baldwin Acrosonic. I listed it for sale here on this blog last week. It came from the home of a neighbor who was moving; her daughter had practiced piano on it and all I had to do was pay for the moving. It has been my "backup" piano for two years, a very nice instrument that allowed me teach or play in two different locations in my house. And it looked good in an empty spot in my living room.

A friend of mine called almost as soon as the post went up. She knew of a family that had two kids who loved to play, and were doing well in lessons, but had only a small keyboard for practice at home. I knew it was meant to be their piano. And so Eliane and I watched as the Baldwin rolled out of my house.

Godspeed, Acrosonic!

They didn't have to sing for it, but I hope they enjoy it as much I have enjoyed Margaret's gift to me. Maybe someday a composer will play on their piano, too.

And now we wait.

The Seven, Vol. 5: Stopping time

Is it just me, or does the year speed up suddenly in November? This is problematic, for there is so much I want to savor and remember. . . . 1.  I'm looking forward to hearing phenomenal organist David Hill at Christ Church in Westerly on Sunday Nov. 10 at 4pm. It's a free concert and there is great food at the reception! The first organ concert I ever heard was while I was studying in Graz, Austria in 2005. Every Sunday night the local Dom hosted European and Russian performers, and I got hooked. Organ concerts are like no other kind of performance, allowing a very pure form of listening. You can't see what the organist is doing, so you can only marvel at the endlessly fascinating sounds that spill out of the pipes. It's the same instrument, but it's completely different as it's manipulated by different sets of hands and feet. If you haven't been to an organ concert yet, I suggest you enjoy a mountaintop experience with one of the very best artists, on a very fine instrument. See you on Sunday.

2. I just finished teaching a five-week voice class with singers from The Chorus of Westerly. We talked about breath support, bright and dark sounds, vowel shapes, and how to sing notes that are really far apart, all in preparation for our first concert of the season. That's Sunday, Nov. 17 at the George Kent Performance Hall. We're doing John Rutter's Mass Of The Children and Morton Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna. Both works are quite recent and the composers are still living (Lauridsen recently emailed our choir!), but the music is steeped in the traditions of chant and English melody. Best of all, it's intensely hopeful. If you mashed up the two works, you'd have one giant spiritual statement of great beauty, deep emotion, and really wide intervals. No disrespect, Eric Whitacre, but I prefer these guys. Here's the most famous section of the Lux Aeterna. We all have a lot going on in November, but to me that is even more reason to stop for an hour, and just bask in beauty. You need it. We all need it.

photo 2

3. My family's Operation Christmas Child boxes are packed and ready to travel! Here's what I included in the boys' boxes (ages 10-14): A deflated soccer ball, ball pump, two pairs of socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, flashlight, batteries, notepad, "instant" Christmas tree, tape measure, Sour Patch candy, Pop Rocks candy, Mentos candy, Patriots water bottle, kazoo, yo-yo, kaleidoscope, deodorant, combs, mini-race car, and mini-Legos. This year I think I really "got" the right mix of stuff. It's not too late for you to visit the website and build a box online!

4. I visited my folks in Ohio. My mom has to do leg exercises each morning, so I joined her in support and solidarity. Bridget helped by adding some furry resistance. We laughed a lot.

photo 4

5. The Best Photographer In The World just finished his second New York City Marathon. Let's forget that two years ago, covered in ice packs at mile 20 of his first New York Marathon, he declared I could divorce him and take all his money if he ever tried to run a marathon again. This was a much better experience for both of us! He wanted to have a really good run with no injury, and that's what he had. I intercepted him a few times and made sure he wasn't hurting, or in need of a snack. Each time I saw him he was happy and relieved that his knees were holding up. He lost all energy as soon as he crossed the finish line, and I steered him back to our hotel. He made very strange sounds in the shower, and then we celebrated his accomplishment with room service:

A cup of soup, some burgers, a soft bed, several glasses of ice water, and thou

6. Actually, the best part of Marathon Weekend was meeting our lovely newborn niece . . . .

Aunt Eden and Baby O

. . . . whose schedule would humble the most indefatigable runner . . .

7. Let alone her dear dad.

Mile 20 or Mid Morning, who really knows

 

 

The Seven, Vol. 4: Dansko Mystery Solved

1. You recall my Missing Danskos. Well, I accepted that they were gone, even though I wondered where they'd gone to. I bought a new pair of Kates on eBay, for $29! After I won the auction, my daughter looked at the screen and said, "Those look just like the shoes I saw outside." WHAT?!?!?

And so she led me outside, to a grassy area about 50 paces from our back door, and sure enough, there was a shred of what used to be my Danskos. My son joined us. "Oh, I wondered what those tan pieces were," he said as he found several more hiding in the lawn. Those pieces were the remains of my missing Danksos. At first we thought some fetishist coyotes snatched them from the back porch. But, we quickly realized that a powerful lawn mower probably unknowingly sucked them up, ground them up, and spit them out. . . .the kind of lawn mower that comes to our house every week or so.

Rest in Peace, Dead Danskos.

2. So . . .new Danskos!  Okay, they're not flashy. O.J. Simpson would call them "ugly-ass shoes." So, there was only one other bidder. Yippee for me. They're SO comfortable, and they're not tennis shoes! The style is called the Kate, size 38, and the color is a muddy green -- or, as Dansko calls it, "Moss." I'm wearing Kate, Moss.

Kate Moss would not wear Moss Kates, but I will

 

3. In a supreme expression of spousal love, I have agreed to run the Ocean's Run Half Marathon with my husband, next March. Yes, I am aware this is 13.1 miles. I am terrified. . . and also a little intrigued. Can I do it? I just ran-walked the "Get To The Point" 5-miler in Narragansett last Saturday, and the first few miles felt surprisingly easy. Then, as soon as I saw the Mile 3 marker, my legs turned to stone and I sluggishly walked most of the rest of the course. Fail. I also grabbed water out of another runner's hands by accident and she gave me the stare of death as she stumbled off. I let her beat me.

4. I use the Jeff Galloway method of running with walk breaks, so I average a tortoise-like 13 minutes per mile. No, I haven't figured out my actual walking pace vs. running pace. Yes, I will do that. But, to cover 13. 1 miles at all I will have to practice running faster and for longer. Incredibly inspirational runner-blogger Sheryl Yvette (aka BitchCakes), who is running her first New York Marathon this year, started doing some speed training with a local running club and reported improvements in pace and stamina. So, I have started incorporating a little speed training into my (short) runs. I'm slowly extending the time I run before I take a walk break (right now it's only about a mile, but previously I've been able to go for two miles and twice in my running "career" I actually ran for three straight miles). I'm occasionally doing the "Magic Mile" test where I see how fast I can just run a mile -- last Sunday I did it in exactly 12 minutes, which is GREAT for me, and I was even able to pour on some speed for the last minute or so. Progress! I have never really discussed my turtle-riffic running life with the world at large, because everyone else seems so much faster. They ARE faster! But, I believe I'll get at least a little faster than I am now, and that will make my half a least a little more enjoyable. I'm definitely one of the gals who loves the feeling when the running is OVER. That Gatorade tasted really, really good.

I don't deserve this Gatorade . . .OH YES I DO!

5. My husband (AKA The Best Photographer In The World) is running his second New York Marathon on Nov. 3. He's excited but also really ready to run it. I'm very proud of him for putting consistent effort into his training, and prouder still that he has raised over $10,000 for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, through the Fred's Team running club. My job on Nov. 3 will be to track him on my phone, and maybe show up with a snack, somewhere around Mile 16.

6. A student of mine played a lead role in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical last weekend, at a local community theater. I'm not at all objective and this is not a review, but he did do a great job! Solid performances by the entire cast, lovely voices, excellent costumes, and the audience was enthusiastic. I give an automatic standing ovation to any production that lets me drink wine and eat Snickers while I am seated. I'll offer only one criticism. Apparently, there is no room for an actual piano in the theater or in the wings. That's a tough situation, and you do the best you can with the space you have. However, the keyboard reduction and synthesized strings were a distraction for me. I'm probably more sensitive to this, than a "lay" person who has not music directed a bunch of shows. I am no fan of karaoke musicals, but I wonder if prerecorded tracks might have actually worked better here.

7. If you want to experience the best live musical sound ever, here's what you do: Sing in a choir or ensemble, and stand behind a full orchestra, in a packed house. Sonically and spiritually, there is just nothing better. Nothing. You're coming to hear The Chorus Of Westerly sing Morton Lauridsen and John Rutter on November 17, aren't you?

The Seven, Vol. 1

NB: I can't always add up "7 Quick Takes" and I can't always blog on a Friday, but here is my first attempt at Jennifer Fulwiler-style mini-posting. EC 1. I am trying to figure out why “Not A Day Goes By,” from Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, is printed in the key of F in my music theater anthology, but always sung in lower keys in actual performance (at least on YouTube). Here is Her Curliness Bernadette Peters doing it in D major. [video width="480" height="360" mp4="http://www.edencasteel.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Not-A-Day-Goes-By-by-Bernadette-Peters.mp4"][/video]

And here it is in the printed key, F major, which makes it sound . . .different: [video width="640" height="360" mp4="http://www.edencasteel.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Not-A-Day-Goes-By-from-Merrily-We-Roll-Along.mp4"][/video]These kinds of mismatches happen all the time in the printing/performing world but this one is a headscratcher. I have consulted my colleagues at SomaticVoiceWork and they are also a little puzzled. One suggested that the song was switched at some point from a male to female character, and that would explain it.

2. I like it when women keep their fertility plans private. “2014 is the year of the baby,” announced Chelsea Clinton. Wow, I hope her ovaries wrote that down. It’s good to (quietly) prepare for pregnancy with vitamins and leafy greens, but what if the stick doesn’t turn blue when she has decided she wants it to? Conception is not an item on a to-do list, it’s the Major Life Event (and a blessing from God). I am happy when I hear someone is “hoping” for a baby, which is usually more accurate, anyway.

3. I’m reading David McCullough’s biography of President Truman, all 992 pages, and I am up to his second term in the Senate. I didn’t realize he was such a late bloomer -- he married Bess when they were both 35! He was just too poor to marry her sooner, and she waited for him.

4. My little girl loves to plan parties -- from decorations to food to activities. Her 9th birthday is in November, and one option is hosting a slumber party. Do you remember slumber parties? I remember many of them as slumber-optional and lots of fun. Both of my kids have not attended or hosted them, it’s just worked out that way with their friends. What do I need to do to prepare myself?

5. There is a lot of wonderful music in little Westerly RI these days! Salt Marsh Opera just performed Donizetti's Don Pasquale. It was a sweet, funny production with excellent performances all around.The surtitles failed in the middle of Act 3, just before the beautiful love duet, but in a way, it was such a treat -- we knew they were singing about love, and nothing else mattered. Go see it at The Kate if you can.

Whoops! Gosh, I sure hope this opera buffa ends the way all the other ones do, otherwise we are in trouble!

6. I'm really looking forward to seeing the awesome Kevin Short perform this Friday! Usually I only see him from my perch on the Chorus of Westerly risers (and that view ain't bad either, sister). This will be such a treat. And Chanticleer arrives later this month, too!

7. Yesterday, I played a funeral for a nice lady named Helen, married 52 years, who prayed the Rosary daily. The music was the usual mix [shoulder shrug]: Ave Maria, On Eagle’s Wings, One Bread One Body, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace. Helen, I’m honored that I got to play for your funeral, but I’m ecstatic that I didn’t mess up the pedals on your hymns and songs, and I fired all of the stops in the correct order (okay, they were presets, but that's a big leap for me!). I'm playing my first Catholic wedding next weekend, and playing your funeral helped boost my confidence. Your Communion hymn sounded soft and melodious, and your concluding hymn sounded triumphant. Helen, I hope I helped play you to Heaven.

Music for Funerals

When I lived in Michigan, I had an informal agreement with the organist at my parish, regarding music for our own funerals: One of us would make sure that the other got really good music. We worried that our relatives, prostrate with grief, might program some lousy music. We even made a little list for each other. We did a lot of funerals together, and sometimes we would whisper, "I want THAT hymn!" or, more often, "Please make sure that song is BANNED at my funeral, ok?" On Eagles' Wings did not make the cut. And now I have stated it here on my blog, too. Take note, family! I love the Faure Pie Jesu for funerals. It's short and beautiful. But, I think for my own funeral I would rather not have a soprano soloist. I'd like to be the Star Female one last time. So . . how about The Call, by Ralph Vaughan Williams? I love choral music, too.  . . the In Paradisum from the Faure or Durufle Requiem would be lovely, but I'm practical. I know there won't be a lot of time to rehearse anything. Do the chant version of the In Paradisum and I'll be happily on my way. Do Be Not Afraid and I'll haunt you. I'm tickled at the thought of having a New Orleans Second Line, but that's hard to come by up here!

The last time I sang the Pie Jesu for a funeral, it was for a baby girl who died in her mother's womb a couple of days before she was supposed to be delivered. I had just formed a small children's choir at my parish, which included some of the girl's older siblings. The parents asked if the children would sing, and they sang God Who Touchest Earth With Beauty. It was heartbreaking, and yet also hopeful. I could feel the sadness in my own voice as I sang, but I held it together. At the request of the parents we also sang Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones, a great hymn looking forward to happiness with the Communion of Saints.

My dad played the organ at both of his parents' funerals, and he accompanied me as I sang Albert Hay Malotte's The Lord's Prayer. I know it brought him comfort to be able to play. He also delivered the eulogies. My mother sang at her own mother's funeral. I don't think I will be able to do anything but hold my sister's hand at that time, but we'll see. When your heart is broken, sometimes music is the only way you can bear it. If I have to sing, I'll sing.

This week my True Love and I attended a funeral at the same parish where we were married. It was a service of thanksgiving for the life of Laurie, a woman I had never met. The church was packed. The choir sang Herbert Howells' Pray For the Peace Of Jerusalem. At Communion the choir sang several short motets, including one of my favorites by Theodore DuBois, Adoramus Te Christe. (It's on my list. It's quick to learn, too.) We used to sing it at the Altar of Repose on Holy Thursday.

The final hymn was For All The Saints, and we sang all eight verses. I noticed that as I sang each verse, my voice was stronger and stronger, and I was happy to help sing this beloved woman to Heaven. The organist played a dazzling fanfare, and we began the final verse. The choir soared past all of us, with the descant reaching higher and higher. The music in the hymnal got blurry as tears came to my eyes, and I choked up so much I could no longer sing, just listen and be thankful.

The entire congregation stood as the grieving mother and children processed to the back of the church with the casket, while the organist played a triumphant postlude. A few people left the pews, but most just stood and watched. The choir was invited to recess but they remained standing in the loft, motionless. The organist kept his eyes on the music and completed the postlude, and everyone remained standing, weeping silently for the gift of the beautiful woman and the gift of the beautiful music.

Laurie was the organist's daughter. He played her to Heaven.

Laura Kent Hynes 1962-2012

 

 

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